Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hitachi's ABWR reactor, intended for Britain, has terrible operational record

Longmen ABWR plant in Taiwan
The Longmen ABWR plant in Taiwan, built by GE-Hitachi, nearing completion,

Hitachi has agreed to buy the Horizon nuclear company for around £700 million from RWE and E.ON, and begin a programme of building new ABWR reactors in Britain. But the four operational ABWR plants in Japan have a history of being off-line over 40% of the time.

The Japanese company, leading a consortium which contains Canadian engineering and construction group SNC-Lavalin, is to work with two leading British engineering companies, Rolls-Royce and Babcock International, intending to build two or three 1.3GW plants at each of the two sites owned by Horizon: Wylfa on Anglesey and Oldbury in Gloucestershire.

Hiroaki Nakanishi, president of Hitachi, said: “Today starts our 100-year commitment to the UK and its vision to achieve a long-term, secure, low-carbon, and affordable energy supply”.

Between 5,000 and 6,000 jobs are hoped to be created at each site during construction, with 1,000 permanent jobs per side following.

Government ministers welcomed the announcement, which comes after a series of talks at Whitehall with the potential buyers. The other contender was Westinghouse, but Hitachi beat them on price, offering twice what the owners of Horizon were expecting.

Hitachi is to use the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) design, which it has employed on four plants in Japan. Other plants based on this design are being constructed in Taiwan. All have been delivered on time and on budget.

The design has not yet been submitted to the Health and Safety Executive for approval, a process which can take up to four years. The first plant is therefore not expected to be operational until the middle of the 2020s.

However, the four Japanese ABWRs in operation have often shut down due to technical problems. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, they have an operating factor below 60%, meaning that on average, 41.2% of the time they have not been producing electricity.

The Shika 2 ABWR reactor was unavailable 57.5% of the time; the 46.8 %">Hamaoka-5 reactor 46.8% of the time, the Kashiwazaki Kariwa-7 plant was unavailable 32.4% of the time; and the the Kashiwazaki Kariwa-6 plant 28.1% of the time.

Another ABWR planned to be built in Texas was cancelled in March 2011, and earlier this month almost two-thirds of Lithuanians voted against such a plant being built in their country.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Edward Davey said: “Hitachi bring with them decades of expertise, and are responsible for building some of the most advanced nuclear reactors on time and on budget, so I welcome their commitment to helping build a low carbon secure energy future for the UK. I particularly welcome Hitachi’s firm commitment to involve the UK supply chain and local workforce."

Around 60% of the value of the first plant is expected to be sourced from within the UK, with more from subsequent plants.

Speaking on Radio 4 this morning, Ed Davey repeatedly denied that there had been any discussion of the price that might be paid for the electricity any of the plans might produce. He insisted that it was purely a commercial arrangement.

EDF Energy is negotiating with the government over the strike price for the electricity it is hoping to generate at Hinkley.

Mr Davey also announced the setting up of a new arms-length body, the Nuclear Industry Council. It will attempt to promote the UK's commitment to new nuclear power abroad and will be chaired jointly by government and industry representatives: Edward Davey (or Energy Minister John Hayes) and Business Minister Michael Fallon, and Lord Hutton, Chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association.

John Hutton said that the council “symbolises the long-term strategic partnership developing between the UK nuclear industry and the Government".

Also today, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced that Sheffield University has been selected to go forward to final contracting and due diligence for a £37 million project involving continuing support for the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.

This will be responsible for improving the skills base in the nuclear industry in the UK.

ABWRs have a design life of around 60 years, and take four years to construct. Unlike Areva's EPR design, they have a single not a double containment shell. They do not use steam generators.

Greenpeace Energy Campaigner Leila Deen commented on the news that: "It speaks volumes about the UK’s struggling nuclear programme that the Government is promoting a reactor that's years from being granted UK safety approval and is designed by the company that helped build Fukushima.

"Instead of waiting years to find out how much bill payers will end up subsidising this project, the Government should join Japan and Germany, abandon nuclear, and invest instead in clean, renewable energy."

Friday, October 26, 2012

British coal plants are converting to biomass with no certain climate benefit

Drax power station

A British Government policy change is causing coal plants to convert to burning biomass, fueling a huge increase in wood pellet exports from North America. But a new review of biofuels' impact has cast doubt on their ability to tackle climate change.

Around one-third of the EU bioenergy share in 2020 is projected to come from wood biomass from forests and woods, according to EU states’ National Renewable Energy Action Plans.

But there is a significant time lag between the carbon debt created when trees are cut down to be burned for energy, and the carbon reductions that fully grown replacement trees will bring, according to a report from the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP).

“It is not currently possible to define the emissions profile and savings associated with Europe’s expanding use of biomass for energy, nor is there any policy process currently in place to secure this,” the IEEP report says.

“As a consequence, at present there is only the certainty of commitment to bioenergy use up to 2020, but no associated guarantee of emission reduction.”

The IEEP paper cites several studies to show that boosting bioenergy supplies with increased forest management would only achieve around 20% of the anticipated greenhouse gas savings in a 50-year period.

American imports rise

The European policy is boosting exports of wood pellets from North America. American export volumes are forecast to increase from an estimated 1.5 million tons in 2012 to 5.7 million tons in 2015, according to the North American Wood Fiber Review.

Total Canadian exports to Europe in the second quarter of this year rose 14% from the first quarter, with reports of British Colombian pellet plants running at full capacity thanks to European demand.

Biomass-burning plants in the UK import most of their fuel, mostly from North America, which increases their carbon impact from transportation.

While in 2010-11, 13% of biomass burnt in British power stations was home-grown, this fell to 8.6% in the last financial year.

Meanwhile the amount imported grew, from 840,250 tonnes in 2010-11 to 1,086,880 in 2011-12, an increase of 23%.

Drax, based in Selby, North Yorkshire, is the main importer of biomass for this purpose, and is about to become a much bigger customer.

It has just raised £190 million to convert three of its six generating units exclusively to burning biomass instead of coal. The cost of this conversion is staggering: up to £700 million. It is being additionally financed by £230 million of cash, a £100 million loan and bank credit of £400 million.

Half of this money will not be spent in this country. It will be spent in upgrading port facilities and new wood pellet plants in North America.

Several new Canadian pellet facilities, such as Holbrook Forest Products in Roddickton, Newfoundland, have expressed their intentions to export pellets via these new port facilities.

Drax has used a financial technique called hedging to presell its power output to 2014. It issued an interim statement yesterday saying: "We have taken advantage of better dark green spreads since [2012] to strengthen our contracted position, including additional power sales of 3.5TWh and 2.9TWh for 2013 and 2014 respectively".

DECC's preference for conversion

Its incentive to make the conversion is the decision, announced in September in the banding review for the Renewables Obligation Certificates, that the more biomass is consumed in a given plant, the more support it is given. Electricity generated by a unit using 100% biomass will receive 1 ROC.

In addition, DECC's review came down on explicitly supporting co-firing and coal conversion to biomass, as opposed to new biomass plants, and a consultation on a cap on dedicated biomass ROCs.

It is also likely that dedicated biomass projects will be excluded from the new capacity mechanism in the Energy Bill.

This decision caused Centrica Energy, to announce on Wednesday that it will not be proceeding with planning applications to develop dedicated biomass power stations at Roosecote in Barrow-in-Furness and at Glanford Brigg in North Lincolnshire.

Centrica Energy had proposed to build a new 80MW biomass power station on the site of its existing Roosecote gas-fired power station, and a 137MW biomass power station adjacent to its existing gas-fired power station at Brigg.

Others are not deterred, however. MGT Power announced this week that it will build a new 300 MW biomass power station at Teespor, at an estimated cost of £500 million.

Eggborough Power aims to convert all four units at its 2GW coal-fired plant to biomass. These would consume over 15 million tonnes per year of wood pellets if all units underwent conversion. The vast majority of these will be imported.

One port through which biomass imports come from North America is Immingham. It said on 15 October that it expects to handle 8 million tonnes of biomass in 2020, up from 62,000 tonnes in 2011.

The port discharged a 46,000 tonne wood pellet cargo in August, which was delivered to a large Aire Valley coal station. It expects to see further deliveries this year.

Several developers are deciding whether to build biomass plants close to the port.

Attempts are being made to address the lag in the intended greenhouse gas emission-curbing benefit of burning trees for electricity.

In August, the American state of Massachusetts implemented a regulation that biomass can only now be sourced from residues and thinning trees, taking into account soil productivity and protection of biodiversity and natural habitats.

Biomass units must also show that they emit at least 50% less greenhouse gases than fossil fuels, while efficiency requirements, operating certificates, and verification procedures are also imposed.

A DECC spokesman said that it will be consulting soon on setting caps on the carbon impact of biomass plants.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Energy storage must be supported in the Energy Bill

There have been many calls for energy efficiency to be supported in the Energy Bill as it is being reformulated, before it is presented again to Parliament next month.

I totally support these, but I would like to add that there must also be support for energy storage.

Energy storage is the next big thing alongside the smart grid. But there is only a passing mention of it in the current draft of the Energy Bill.

Energy storage systems enable electricity generated at a time of low demand to be stored and used at a later time when electricity demand is high. They go hand-in-hand with the development of the smart grid.

Energy storage significantly increases the effectiveness of wind, solar and tidal generated electricity because the energy is time-shifted to peak demand, which strengthens the business case for investment in a renewable generation scheme and means fewer generation plants need to be constructed.

There is another advantage: if storage is located near the point of use, this reduces the need to invest in power delivery infrastructure and reduces transmission losses.

According to a recent Frost and Sullivan report, some energy storage technologies under development also increase the efficiency of the CHP, waste-to-energy plants and distributed gas-based smaller power plants by utilising excess electricity (and heat) to make it available when it is needed.

Finally, storage can be deployed in tandem with virtual power stations and demand-service response. This gives a national grid the ability to tap into backup power and storage owned by any company of any type connected to the grid. This will considerably open up the market for distributed energy supply, with the potential for huge business opportunities.

The UK Government is supporting innovation in this area with a freshly announced £20 million fund for feasibility and demonstration competitions.

This is fine, but we need regulatory change too. The inability of the market to support energy storage at present needs addressing.

There are many competing storage technologies, all of them interesting:

  • Pumped hydro: at present there is only one example in this country

  • Ceramic bipolar batteries, being supported already by the Technology Strategy Board for use with PVs

  • Compressed air energy storage (CAES) and liquid air, where the main challenge is to develop adiabatic (zero-heat loss) compression to improve efficiency

  • Flywheels, which are achieving ever higher speed rotation (e.g. hubless design)

  • Hydrogen, generated from renewable energy, and used in conjunction with fuel cells

  • Liquid metal batteries, a bizarre but fascinating innovation

  • Lithium-based batteries, where developers are improving solid-state conductors, and lifetime

  • Sodium-based batteries, where the challenges to improve durability and electrolytes (including solid-state)

  • Redox and hydrid flow batteries, where the need is to develop low-cost membranes and real-time impurity sensing

  • Supercapacitors, where the challenge is to improve high voltage electrolytes

  • Thermal-to-electric storage, where the energy needs to be quicker to access and convert when required.

The UK’s Low Carbon Innovation Coordination Group estimates that, combined with the smart grid, storage solutions could save the UK £4 - 19 billion in deployment costs up to 2050.

Furthermore, innovation can help create UK based business opportunities that could contribute an estimated £6 - 34 billion to the economy from exporting our know-how abroad up to 2050.

Around the world, new energy storage deployment totaled 121MW in 2011. A forecast from Pike Research projects that this will rise to 2,353MW in 2021. In China, the world’s largest market for renewable energy, which also has the world’s largest electricity grid, GTM Research anticipates that the market for energy storage will grow to a $500 million per year market by 2016.

All of this means that there are great prizes ahead for the companies that deliver the winning solutions.

In America, energy storage is already being supported. Various projects have been funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), with $185 million of public money, which attracted $585 million of private investment.

We risk losing out in this huge global market if we do not back our own companies to the extent that America is doing.

Steven Berberich, the President and CEO of the California Independent System Operator, is of the opinion that "storage plus renewables is a marriage made in heaven".

California has a 33% renewable energy mandate and a cap and trade system starting next year. 12GW of distributed wind and solar power is expected to enter the market. Storage has the ability to cover for when there is no wind or at night time.

"It's the economics of storage we need to sort out," Berberich says.

That’s exactly what the Energy Bill should address. But Berberich believes that frequency regulation is the first market opportunity for energy storage, because it is already economic.

A ruling in the States by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that forces Independent System Operators to take into account the benefit of storage is making them see its cost-effectiveness when used for this purpose.

Two pilot projects are establishing this near New York: one, run by Beacon Power, uses 20 MW of flywheel power, the other, by AES, uses 8MW of lithium batteries.

Another frequency regulation energy storage project in EastPenn, Pennsylvania, uses 3MW of innovative batteries that look like lead acid but with one electrode containing carbon; a cross between ultracapacitors and lead acid batteries with ten times the cycle life of other batteries.

Ian Ellerington, Head of Innovation Delivery at DECC, said earlier this year that if it was possible to fit energy storage support into the Energy Bill it would be a real boost to the industry.

“The energy system has to make sure it’s cost competitive and if storage can be part of that then it would be good to have the commercial mechanism in place to take advantage of the benefits that can be realised through that,” he said.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers has also called upon the Government to support electricity storage through market reform. It criticises the “lack of understanding about the flexibility of electrical storage and the wider financial benefits it can deliver”.

The way to do this in the Energy Bill is to introduce a separate market category from generation, transmission, distribution and supply.

This will mean that a market support mechanism can be targeted specifically at storage.

The proposed Capacity Mechanism, whose details require fleshing out, should be used for this purpose.

Last week, Tim Yeo, the head of the select committee on energy and climate change, called for a feed-in tariff to support energy efficiency. A similar scheme could also be an option for energy storage.

The rule change in America that made it possible for energy storage to enter the market was to force suppliers to consider energy storage on an equal basis alongside generation before making a decision on investment. This is another option that could go in the Bill.

Energy storage is an exciting and fast-moving field with huge potential, and an essential part of tomorrow’s electricity supply system.

Not to support it in the Energy Bill would be another missed opportunity.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Davey goes for gas as €9.5 billion price rise forecast for 2013

Ed Davey at Gastech
 Ed Davey at Gastech today.

Rising gas and power prices will cost European industrial energy buyers an additional €9.5 billion in 2013 according to new forecasts.

The news comes on the day that major corporations including BT and Microsoft are urging George Osborne and the Conservative Party to do more to support renewable energy, and Ed Davey told the GasTech conference about his commitment to gas.

€4.2 billion of these forecast price increases will be due to hikes in gas prices, and €5.3 billion to growth in the price of electricity, market consultants EnergyQuote JHA, will say at their biannual energy price forecasting conference which begins on Wednesday.

UK consumers will see an increase of between 5% and 7%. This is not the highest in Europe by any means: the Dutch will find prices 12.5% higher and Germany Austria and Belgium businesses will face increases of over 10%.

Britain is in the process of approving a number of new gas-fired power stations, which would leave the nation at the mercy of such future price increases. Ed Davey, Energy Secretary, has said that up to twenty could be built over the next two decades.

He told the Gastech Conference & Exhibition this morning that gas will be important even through to the 2040s, and said the sector needed £110 billion of investment in power generation and transportation to 2020.

He said a new generation of gas-fired power stations must be built ready for carbon capture and storage. “CCS matters not only for the continued use of gas in the long-term in the UK; it is also vital for cutting emissions globally. And as we prove the commercial viability of CCS, we have the chance to create in that process an exciting export opportunity for companies that become early leaders in this technology.”

He also said that he is waiting for evidence on the viability of shale gas in the UK before making a decision about it.

He was followed by BG Group's CEO, Sir Frank Chapman, who said: "We must prove that gas is the 'destination fuel' of the low carbon economy".

A new 880 MW combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) power plant, which will be built by engineering consortium Alstom Duro Felguera and Carrington Power, secured financial support for its development in Manchester last week.

That the gas industry is in buoyant mood is evident at its industry conference, which is happening this week at ExCeL London.

Tomorrow, the conference is being attended by Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, giving his first press conference in the UK since he was appointed to the role in May this year. He will be anxious to promote the advantages of Russian gas.

He is being accompanied on his visit to this country by Alexey Kalinin, who, as Rosatom’s Head of International Business, represents another Russian energy sector, nuclear power, that is anxious to sell into Britain.

He will be speaking about Rosatom’s willingness to develop a new nuclear skills base in the UK, to an audience at a Centre for Policy Studies Fringe Meeting during the Conservative Party Conference, that will include John Hayes MP, the new Minister for Energy & Climate Change.

Whether Britain builds a new generation of gas-fired power stations, new nuclear plants, or invests further in home-grown renewable energy, will determine not just the price of energy in the future, but UK energy security and whether the country will meet its 2050 carbon emission targets.

Major companies lobby Osborne

Over 50 companies, investors and industry bodies, including EDF, BT, Microsoft, Marks & Spencer's and PepsiCo, are signatories to a letter sent to George Osborne, David Cameron and other senior Tories today, warning that sending out mixed signals on energy policy risks undermining investment in renewable energy.

They back the setting of a 2030 target for decarbonising the electricity sector, which is urged by the Committee on Climate Change, because reliance on gas beyond 2030 would be incompatible with meeting legally binding emissions targets set under the 2008 Climate Change Act.

“It is essential for government to provide investors with the long-term confidence they need to transform our electricity market and make investments capable of driving wider economic growth,” the letter says, going on to warn that the Government's commitment to green power is being “undermined by recent statements calling for unabated gas in the power sector beyond 2030”.

"Failure to act at sufficient scale and pace will undermine our prosperity and cause us to miss out on the huge commercial opportunities associated with the global shift to a low carbon, resource efficient economy," it says.

The letter is organised by the Aldersgate Group.

Decarbonisation target

The Financial Times is reporting today that utility company SSE also supports a 2030 carbon intensity target, because it “could provide much-needed certainty for low-carbon investors, showing developers that the government is committed to decarbonisation in the long term”.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are in favour of a 2030 decarbonisation target of 50g CO2/kWh, which will be set in the context of the Energy Bill that will be laid in final draft before Parliament towards the end of the year.

Ed Davey's recent thinking is that there should be such a target, but within it there should be some flexibility. He reportedly wants to see a target range for different sectors.

This is a model also being considered for an amendment to the Bill by Friends of the Earth.

This would stipulate a general 50g CO2/kWh by 2030 target, but allow for flexibility within the context of an overall 2050 carbon target. The fixed target would be invoked in primary legislation, but secondary legislation could support different targets for, say, transport.

This would take the burden of responsibility away from resting solely upon the energy sector.

The environmental lobby body is cautious however. Donna Hume, FoE's energy campaigner, has warned that adopting a decarbonisation "range" instead of a specific target could result in the UK failing to deliver the necessary emissions cuts.

"A decarbonisation target would provide greater clarity on the direction of travel for many renewable energy businesses after 2020," she said. "It would also ensure it was a more democratic and transparent process."

The safest option for nuclear waste is to leave it where it is and not make any more

It is morally wrong to commission more nuclear power stations and create more nuclear waste until we know what to do with our existing waste. And we don't.

The subject of what to do with Britain's existing nuclear waste has reared its hot head again.

Last Thursday, DECC's new minister Baroness Verma was dispatched to Sellafield and the communities of Copeland and Allerdale, where the majority of the nuclear power station and the nuclear waste reprocessing plant's workers live, in the wake of the decision taken by local councillors at the end of September not to be rushed into having all of Britain's high-level nuclear waste buried beneath their feet.

Baroness Verma will need the wisdom of Solomon to deal with this dilemma.

High-level waste is mostly used reactor fuel and materials that have come into contact with it, as well as materials from processing nuclear weapons.

Currently all of Britain’s high-level waste is stored above ground in cooling ponds at Sellafield, and looking after it, and other nuclear waste, consumes over 60% of the Department for Energy and Climate Change's budget, or £1.69 billion a year.

The Government would love a final solution for what to do with all this waste, so that a new generation of nuclear power stations can be built that will create a whole lot more.

The problem is that only two communities in the country have stepped forward to offer themselves as candidates for storing this, the most dangerous material known to humanity.

One, Shepway District Council, voted against such a proposal on September 19.

The other area had already been ruled out as a safe site by Nirex, now the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, in a comprehensive geological survey conducted in the 1990s.

This is because of the presence of deep faults and fractures in the underlying geological structure, and underground water flows which could transport dangerous levels of radioactivity out into the environment.

Nevertheless, the Managing Radioactive Wastes Safety Partnership (MRWS), which was set up by the Labour government with the task of re-evaluating its geology, ignored the Nirex study and conveniently produced a document, “Initial Geological Unsuitability Screening" in 2008 which identified an area of 23 square kilometres which might be a candidate. This was commissioned from the British Geological Survey with a much narrower scope.

No wonder those councillors in West Cumbria are confused.

They are attracted by the jobs and promises of community regeneration from the government, basically a bribe for taking the material. But, not being experts on the subject, they don't know what to make of the conflicting advice that they have been given.

In two weeks' time, the independent Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) is to examine developments in West Cumbria and make a recommendation.

They must decide, along with the MRWS, whether it is appropriate to proceed to the next stage, stage 4, of the assessment of suitable sites, which is a desk-based study.

In doing so they must be bearing in mind the advice of David Smythe, Emeritus Professor of geophysics at Glasgow University, that “by proceeding to stage 4 in West Cumbria, despite the evidently insuperable difficulties of geology and hydrogeology, the NDA and the local authorities may run the risk of legal challenge".

David Smythe is supported in his assessment that MRWS' survey is woefully inadequate, by several other leading academics, including Colin Knight and Chris McDonald, who were the technical assessor and lead inspector at the original Nirex enquiry.

A former member of CoRWM, Professor Andy Blowers also agrees. Even the International Atomic Energy Authority considers that West Cumbria is an unsuitable site.

MRWS' own stooge, Dr Jeremy Dearlove, has attempted to argue that the area has “potentially suitable sedimentary formations".

But his argument has been torn to pieces by David Smythe, who accuses him of using debating tactics and disregarding international guidelines.

Prof. Smythe also accuses the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority of “airbrushing out the history" of the previous attempt to find a nuclear waste repository in West Cumbria, by removing from its website the vast bulk of Nirex documents. He has placed them instead on his own website.

Cumbria is exceptionally well understood region geologically, he says, and it is quite obvious that it is unsuitable to be used as a dump.

In the light of this, Baroness Verma should, in all intellectual honesty, make it clear to the Cumbrian councillors that this is the most objective and complete judgment available, not the MRWS one.

The principle of choosing the location for a site is, admirably, that a community must willingly volunteer. A dump cannot be imposed on a community that does not want one.

Logically, therefore, it seems that nowhere in the country is there a place that is both geologically suitable and where the people are unequivocally in favour of hosting a dump.

We are stuck with the status quo, until a new way of dealing with nuclear waste is found, perhaps with another generation of power stations that can use this waste as a fuel source and render it harmless.

Until science comes up with such a solution, the safest option is to continue storing it overground, at Sellafield, where at least it can be monitored.

Meanwhile, it would be morally wrong to approve the construction of any further nuclear power stations in this country, until a lasting solution of what to do with all present and future nuclear waste is found.

Friday, October 05, 2012

World leader Britain takes its partners for offshore wind revolution

Offshore windfarm under construction in North Sea

An international network, backed by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has sett out its vision for offshore windfarms in the North Sea.

Their vision is for 40 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind capacity to be deployed in the region by 2020. This is sufficient electricity to power the cities of London, Paris, Berlin, Dublin, Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Brussels together.

Their astonishing claim is that, in the long-term, the total potential of economically-accessible offshore wind energy resources in Europe exceeds that of its total oil and gas production, with the potential to create more jobs than the North Sea oil and gas industry at its peak.

David Cameron has issued a statement reiterating his support for the drive. He first announced the setting up of the body in April at the clean energy ministerial, when it comprised only 20 companies. Called Norstek, it now includes over 40 world leading manufacturers, developers, supply chain companies, researchers and industry bodies.

“I am delighted to see Norstec rising from the waves," he said. “We are on the cusp of a second, clean energy revolution in the North Sea. Close collaboration between industry and government will be critical to making this happen.”

This was underlined by Edward Davey, Energy and Climate Change Secretary, who spoke of the “massive growth opportunity for the UK and our neighbours around the northern seas, bringing jobs and re-energising once thriving industrial heartlands on the East Coast and beyond.

“I am determined that we work closely with North Seas governments, businesses and academics to make the most of our plentiful offshore renewable resources,” he added. “Norstec will help the offshore wind industry in the northern seas to grow and create a new industrial revolution, driving economic growth across this part of Europe."

Maria McCaffery from Renewable UK said that its chief advantage was that it “fostered collaboration" because “we have more to gain by working together as nations than by pursuing our independent agendas".

She said this would “not only foreshorten the timescale for actual deployment of the generation capacity, but we can establish a new industrial wing and a skilled workforce". The initiative represents an enormous civil engineering challenge on an unprecedented scale.

World leader

The UK is already a world leader in offshore wind power. It has more than 2.67 GW of offshore wind capacity installed, enough to power more than 1,800,000 British homes. This is over 60% of the total of European offshore wind capacity.

Last month saw three major projects commencing generation: Statoil and Statkraft’s 317MW Sheringham Shoal wind farm off the coast of Norfolk, Vattenfall’s 150MW Ormonde wind farm off the coast of Cumbria, and SE and RWE npower renewables' 500MW Greater Gabbard, off the Suffolk coast.

Together these have created over 1,700 jobs, with a capital investment of over £2 billion.

Other countries, though, are about to get in on the act, putting the UK in a prime position to offer its expertise abroad.

American ambitions

Deepwater Wind, a company majority-owned by New York investment firm DE Shaw and minority-owned by Boston-based wind developer First Wind, is planning to build its first offshore wind farm off Rhode Island. It aims to set up a string of them off the East Coast.

It is enthusiastically backed by Rhode Island's state administration and will be built by a local company, Providence. It hopes to achieve a federal lease during the first quarter of 2013.

Initially, there will be five Siemens 6 MW turbines, capable of powering 10,000 homes. Three 1 GW projects will follow. Eventually, there will be a network comprising of up to 200 turbines, costing over $4 billion and connected to New England and New York.

"It is great to have cheap natural gas. However, even if investing in new renewables seems expensive compared to today's gas prices, you need to take a longer view," said Deepwater CEO William Moore.

Japan's $483 billion drive

As it phases out nuclear power, Japan also plans to invest heavily in offshore wind power as part of a 20-year $483 billion investment that will also include solar, energy-from-waste and geothermal power.

Japan has several wind turbine manufacturers, such as Mitsubishi, Japan steelworks and Fuji heavy industries, but none of them are among the top 10 in the world by market share.

For this reason, David Cameron is hoping that expertise gained from working in the North Sea can be exported and sold in places like the US and Japan, not to mention developing countries like Africa and South America.

In developing countries, the UK will be able to count upon the leveraging power of public funds from the International Climate Fund and the $100 billion Green Climate Fund, agreed at the Dakar climate talks last December, to unlock far more private investment.

Energy Minister Greg Barker is currently in East Africa doing just this, promoting British renewable energy expertise, specifically in solar and geothermal, but also in onshore wind, and facilitating deals lubricated by these funds.

The full list of Norstec signatories is:
  • Able UK
  • Alstom
  • Areva
  • Balfour Beatty
  • The Crown Estate
  • David Brown Gear Systems Ltd.
  • Deep Ocean Group
  • Dong Energy
  • EDPR
  • E.On
  • Fluor Ltd.
  • Gamesa
  • Harland & Wolff
  • Hochtief
  • JDR Cables
  • Mainstream
  • Modus Seabed Intervention Ltd
  • Narec
  • National Grid
  • NIRAS Consulting Ltd
  • OGN Group & Aquind
  • Parsons Brinckerhoff
  • PMT Industries Ltd.
  • Prysmian Group
  • RenewableUK
  • REpower
  • Repsol
  • Scottish Enterprise
  • Scottish Power
  • Scottish Renewables
  • SeaEnergy PLC
  • Seajacks
  • Siemens
  • Skanska SMIT-Grontmij
  • Southboats
  • SSE
  • Statkraft
  • Statoil
  • TAG Energy Solutions
  • Tata Steel
  • Technip
  • Vattenfall
  • Vestas
  • VSMC

Britain ahead of game as ministers approve Energy Efficiency Directive

After lengthy, extremely complicated negotiations, a target of 20% energy savings for the EU as a whole by 2020 has been set, as European ministers formally adopted the Energy Efficiency Directive yesterday.

Member states now have to propose, by April next year, their national indicative targets and how they will achieve them. The Commission then has to calculate whether, together, they will total 20% for the continent as a whole by 2020.

Britain does not currently have any target for reducing energy use, but DECC has said that one will be published by April.

Under the legislation, energy companies will have to reduce their sales to industrial and household customers by 1.5% every year, meaning that they will have to recalibrate their business plans so that selling energy efficiency advice becomes increasingly a part of the services they offer.

The Directive also stipulates that 3% of public buildings that are owned and occupied by central government must be renovated every year, and each member state must draw up a roadmap on how it will make the entire building sector more energy-efficient by 2050.

Britain is already way ahead on this compared to its European counterparts with the establishment of the Green Deal, Zero Carbon Homes and the Green Investment Bank.

There are also requirements for energy audits and energy management by large firms, which are already encouraged here under mandatory carbon reporting.

A formal assessment of the potential for district heating and combined heat and power generation (CHP) throughout the EU must be made by 2015.

The final vote in the Council saw Portugal and Spain opposing and Finland abstaining. The directive enters into force in November. The European Commission will undertake reviews of progress in 2014 and 2016.

Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger welcomed the news, and said: “I call upon member states and stakeholders for extra efforts to bring its provisions into life. The Commission also remains dedicated and committed to continue its support to the process".

Carbon pricing

The Government's policy for zero carbon new homes by 2016 will help to contribute to energy efficiency targets.

Construction companies have been researching the most cost-efficient means of attaining the target, and this week published a set of ‘Allowable Solutions’ that may be taken by home builders.

E.ON's Marco Marijewycz, who is the utility's Strategic Lead in the discussions, commented that "the most striking insight which emerges from this process is the consensus amongst key stakeholders that Allowable Solutions has the potential to catalyse both cross sector innovation and the economic rejuvenation of our communities via a low carbon trajectory."

This boost for jobs and innovation will be found across the board of all sectors affected by the Directive.

But Marijewycz goes on to point out that the price of carbon would be a crucial factor in attaining any targets. "What is emphatically clear is the desire for clarity now on the mechanisms for pricing carbon within any such framework. This clarity is essential so as to enable key market actors to strategically plan now ahead of 2016.”

Certainty about the price of carbon, however, is not going to come soon. Yesterday, the EU Parliament announced in its legislative timetable on its website that it won't be until February that it will vote on whether the Commission has the legal power to intervene in Europe's $148-billion carbon market.

This delays even further a decision on whether it will press ahead with its controversial plan to prop up the moribund carbon trading prices.

The six Allowable Solutions are certainly in line with the Directive, including investing in social housing retrofitting initiatives and district heating, as well as low carbon lighting, particularly LEDs.

Embodied carbon, which is the fossil-fuelled energy cost of manufacturing products, also figures, and this is covered by the Directive's pressure on energy utility companies.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Fame at last.... thanks to Headline Environment

Those nice people at Headline Environment have done a short interview with me!

From the intro: 
 "'Low Carbon Kid' blogger, speculative novelist, comic-book writer, freelance journalist, environmental author and news editor of Energy and Environmental Management, David Thorpe reveals some of his secrets, not least his super-powered plate-spinning abilities. From photovoltaic business briefings to futuristic 'hybrids', it's all about keeping the mind open and the windows shut..."

EC shies back from curbing shipping emissions

smokestack on a ship

The European Commission will launch a shipping emissions monitoring system early next year, in a move widely seen as postponement of action to reduce emissions.

In a disgraceful abdication of its responsibilities, its solution will only cover “a simple, robust and globally feasible approach towards setting a system for monitoring, reporting and verification of emissions based on fuel consumption", it said in a statement issued by Vice-President of the European Commission Siim Kallas and EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard.

This 'might' form the basis for bringing shipping into a maritime emissions trading scheme or imposing bunker fuel levies.

According to Elina Bardram, the head of the EU DG Climate Action's international carbon markets unit, setting up such a scheme would be easier and could happen “more quickly than for aviation".

The reason for the policy U-turn is simple: other European Commission departments are intensely opposed to action to curb shipping emissions.

They have been ruffled by the ongoing trade disagreements with China and legal threats from the United States over bringing aviation emissions into the European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS).

There are feelings that doing the same for shipping emissions would be “too difficult, to politically charged", said a senior official in the Transport Directorate.

Rather than take action separately from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), as it has with aviation and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the Climate Action directorate now says that it would prefer to work with the IMO.

"The shipping industry itself is best placed to take the lead in delivering fast and effective greenhouse gas emission reductions – thereby cutting cost and making the sector fit for the future. The Commission is ready to play its part, in the EU and at IMO level", it said in a statement.

Pressure groups Transport and Environment and Seas at Risk have expressed disappointment at a "new postponement to cut shipping emissions".

They said:"The EU has thus far not taken any measures to tackle GHGs from the shipping sector, and progress within the International Maritime Organisation on a global market-based measure has stalled amid arguments over technology transfer and global climate change policy," in a statement.

They also want to see other pollutants such as sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxide monitored.

In July 2011 the IMO introduced the Energy Efficiency Design Index for reducing emissions from shipping, but it only applies to new ships and will not come into force until 2015.

Making Europe's nuclear reactors safe could cost up to €25 billion

A European Commission report released in draft form yesterday says that there are many potentially huge and expensive problems with the safety of the majority of nuclear plants operating in the European Union.

"On the basis of the stress test results practically all [nuclear plants] need to undergo safety improvements," says the leaked draft. "Hundreds of technical upgrade measures have already been identified."

This survey was produced in response to the Fukushima accident in Japan last year.

It puts the cost of the safety upgrades at a total of between €10 and €25 billion, or €30 million to €200 million for each reactor.

134 nuclear reactors are in operation in 14 EU countries, of which 111, at 47 plants, have over 100,000 people living within a radius of 30km.

Most worryingly, the report finds that four reactors, located in two different nations, have less than one hour available to restore safety functions if electrical power is lost.

At the other extreme, four countries operate additional safety systems fully independent from the normal safety measures and located in areas well-protected against external events. A fifth nation is considering that option.

The draft report notes that two member states have still not provided information, but does not identify them.

The UK government commissioned its own report on existing British reactors in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, which gave them the all clear.

However the EU report points out that most UK reactors do not have an alternative control room that could be used in the event that the main one became unsafe.

A DECC spokesperson commented that there was no evidence that British nuclear reactors were unsafe, adding that "the Government is committed to the principle of continuous improvement".

The final version of the European report is to be published later this month, and the Commission will make its recommendations shortly afterwards, including proposing laws on insurance and liability to "improve the situation of potential victims in the event of a nuclear accident".

Environmental campaigners pointed out that, although it is comprehensive and devastating, the report misses out further risks in crucial areas, such as ageing technology, terrorist attacks or human error.

"If this exercise was serious, the Commission should be recommending the closure of unsafe or ageing reactors," said Rebecca Harms, co-president of the Greens/European Free Alliance at the European Parliament.

Councils say they're not ready to host Britain's existing nuclear waste

Meanwhile, there is renewed uncertainty also about what to do with Britain's existing legacy of nuclear waste.

Friday was decision day for the three Cumbrian councils who represent the only community in the country which has said it might host an underground dump for the country's most radioactive materials.

Presently, these are stored at Sellafield in cooling tanks above ground.

The leaders of Cumbria county council, and Allerdale and Copeland borough councils, cited [link to their press release] their desire to have legally enshrined their right to withdraw from the process at any time, and a “lack of trust" between the public and the government, as reasons for postponing their decision until January next year.

They issued a statement which also throws into doubt the suitability of the chosen site: "One of the biggest concerns for many residents of Cumbria has been whether the geology of the area is suitable for a repository.

"Although a few geologists believe there is already enough evidence to show that West Cumbria’s geology is unsuitable, most of the experts agree that there is not enough definitive information available at this time."

The councils are to seek clarification from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) on a number of issues.

Managing the UK's existing nuclear waste is phenomenally expensive.

It already eats up more than half of DECC's annual budget, a proportion which is expected to rise to a staggering 70%.

If the UK can't find a safe repository for its existing nuclear waste, should we really be creating any more?

Not much on the Horizon for UK's nuclear programme

Horizon's Wylfa site, Anglesey, with its mothballed old reactor.

Just two bidders have emerged for Horizon, the nuclear company seeking to build two new reactors in Britain, following the expiry of a deadline last Friday for expressions of interest in purchasing the option, which saw expected partners dropping out.

In both cases it is unsure where the hundreds of millions of pounds of investment will come from, that could eventually see a new nuclear power station built on either of the company's sites, in Oldbury, Gloucestershire and Wylfa, Anglesey.

Last week, three consortiums were expected to throw their hats into the ring: France's Areva, partnered with China's Guangdong Nuclear Power Group, both state-owned; one led by Japan's Hitachi; and Japan's Westinghouse Electric Co., partnered with China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corp and Exelon, the US power generator.

Areva failed to submit a bid. Hitachi did, and Westinghouse did, but without its Chinese partner, who would have provided substantial experience of delivering nuclear power stations on time and within budget.

Areva's European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) design is further ahead than Westinghouse's in the UK's generic design assessment approval process. Westinghouse' put their process on hold last December.

Its AP1000 nuclear reactor design is, in turn, further on than Hitachi's Advanced Boiling Water Reactor, which has yet to be submitted to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), although it is licensed in the US, Japan and Taiwan.

Four ABWRs are already operating in Japan, with a fifth 94% completed.

No AP1000 reactor has yet been completed, although four are under construction in China, and two proposals have been given approval in the US.

Two builds of Areva's EPR design, in France and Finland, have experienced massive hold-ups and budgetary excesses.

EDF has yet to decide whether to proceed with construction of an EPR plant at Hinkley Point.

The process of approval of the EPR design issues by the Health and Safety Executive can be followed online here, where it can be seen that the majority of issues have yet to be resolved.

The only other contender for new nuclear power station building in the UK is NuGen, which is owned by GDF SUEZ and IBERDROLA. Their plans to implement 3.6GW of electricity generation at the Moorside site adjacent to Sellafield are also on hold.

Any potential backers for building new nuclear power stations, which would undoubtedly include Chinese money, are waiting for clarity on the level of government support that will be available following the passing of the Energy Bill, currently winding its way through Parliament.

Monday, October 01, 2012

The NHS could easily save £170 million through basic energy efficiency

The Department of Health should force the NHS to save energy and money, just as the higher education sector’s capital funding is linked to meeting carbon reduction targets.

The NHS believes it spends £1.7 billion a year on energy procurement, according to the Department of Health.

Not only this, but, with all those ambulances and other traffic, it accounts for an astonishing 5% of all road traffic in England.

Moreover, the NHS in England alone spends £20 billion every year on goods and services.

Add this all up, and you can see why the organisation is not only one of the largest employers in Europe, it's one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in the UK: at around 3.7 million tonnes every year.

Let's concentrate for the moment on energy use in buildings, although it forms a minority of all that energy use.

An experienced director of energy management at a prominent construction firm recently told me that he believed that using simple industry best practice, the NHS could easily cut 10% of their energy consumption, which equates to £170 million a year of taxpayers' money, with simple, quick-win energy efficiency measures.

That's a lot of money, and in these straitened times, you would think that hospitals and primary care trusts would be anxious to make these savings.

Seven weeks ago, this energy management expert met with officials in the Department of Health (DH), and asked them why these simple changes were not being implemented.

He was told by a number of hospital estates teams that any cash spend is, in general, always prioritised in hospital budgets for life-saving equipment rather than things like smart meters, more efficient boilers, or lighting and heating controls.

This is not unreasonable. So, he suggested to the official that one way round this might be for the DH to set energy-saving targets, in the same way that it does for reducing waiting lists. Energy (or carbon) saving targets have been set, with impressive results, in the university sector.

In this sector, the provision of capital funding has been explicitly linked to performance against carbon management plans.

Parallel to this, a scheme called The Revolving Green Fund, managed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, provides recoverable grants to help higher education institutions reduce emissions. Institutions repay the funds through the savings they make.

This will contribute to a 43% reduction of carbon emissions by 2020 compared to 2005.

In answer to this suggestion, the DH official replied: “setting targets is not our direction of travel".

When it was put to him that in this case, the energy-saving would not happen, the official repeated his mantra.

I think that the comparison with the university sector is appropriate.

Institutions have to provide annual records of all their greenhouse gas emissions from every single activity, as part of their estates management record, to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

This is an activity that all estate, facility, building and energy managers should be doing anyway. But it doesn't always happen, and mandating this activity focuses minds on where cost savings can be made.

The initiative in this sector is a combination of carrot and stick. It is merely following a strategy which is known to work: reward success, provide funding to make the change, and penalties for poor performance.

Anyone who works in the NHS or who has dealings with it, knows the phenomenal amount of waste that occurs.

We know that its prime directive is to save lives. But there is a comparison to be made with every single commercial business: its core function might be the production of widgets, but the cost of energy affects the bottom line, and wherever attention is paid to this, profits rise.

The NHS is no different.

It's not as though there isn't help there already: from the Carbon Trust (although it is not specifically targeted at the NHS but at the public sector in general), and, through using BREEAM for healthcare buildings, commissioned by the Department of Health and Welsh Health Estates, as the environmental assessment method for new healthcare buildings.

But BREEAM is not mandatory, and is often left out of PFI contracts. In fact, in respect of PFI, many problems arise from the fact that the construction company, the client and the funder have different energy objectives and there is little joined up thinking.

Moreover, the end user of a building is not always responsible for paying the bills, meaning that they do not have an incentive to save energy. Only some accounts have a dedicated energy manager.

One consultant I spoke to told of a case where, if the client turns the lights off, then they are deemed to be in breach of contract, and so lights are left on unnecessarily. Given the lifetime of PFI contracts, many unresolved problems may stick around for between 15 and 35 years.

The Department of Health provides advice on estates and facilities management but it has not been updated for three years and this particular webpage has been archived.

The Health Protection Agency produced a report this year called “Health Effects of Climate Change in the UK 2012". Looking at ozone pollution alone, one alarming statistic reads that their are already 11,900 from premature deaths per year from ozone pollution, but a further 14,000 to 15,000 could result by 2030 as a result of climate change.

There's a certain irony in the fact that the NHS and the DH are fully aware of warnings like this, and yet are unwilling to set targets to reduce this number of deaths by reducing carbon emissions from NHS activities, never mind the fact that this will also save money.

And let's not forget: saving 10% of the energy consumed by the NHS would remove the need for the construction of one nuclear power station, or three gas-fired power stations.

Joined-up thinking, anyone?